Judge denies motion to toss Michael Slager sentence

Judge denies motion to toss Michael Slager sentence
A federal judge Monday denied a motion to set aside the prison sentence of a former North Charleston Police officer charged in the death of a driver. (Source: Pool Video)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A federal judge Monday denied a motion to set aside the prison sentence of a former North Charleston Police officer charged in the death of a driver.

Michael Slager is serving a 20-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a civil rights charge in 2017. He shot and killed Walter Scott after a traffic stop.

Slager recently brought a motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence in which he claims that his counsel was ineffective.

Judge Richard Gergel ruled Slager’s defense team in negotiating a plea agreement and advising Slager “required the exercise of professional judgment in a very tough legal environment.”

“A federal jury trial was imminent and a second state trial for murder was scheduled to soon follow,” Gergel wrote. The plea deal, he said, avoided a second state murder trial and possible state incarceration and left sentencing up to the trial judge. He said Slager’s defense team’s work in negotiating the plea agreement and advising their client “fell well within the bounds of reasonable professional competence and practice.” The court also said the defense team’s performance in conducting the sentencing hearing “was also within the wide range of reasonable professional conduct.”

The judge also addressed an argument about the plea agreement requiring a finding of malice in Scott’s shooting.

“What sealed [Slager’s] fate regarding malice was not the language of his plea agreement or the performance of his defense counsel, but his own willful act of shooting an unarmed man in the back five times as he ran for his life,” Gergel wrote. “Compounding these horrible facts was [Slager’s] inconsistent and obviously false statements about the circumstances of the incident, with which he destroyed his credibility.”

Gergel wrote that at sentencing, Slager “attempted to blame the victim.”

“Now, he attempts to blame his defense counsel and the trial judge,” Gergel wrote. “But a careful review of this entire tragic episode makes plain that [Slager] has no one to blame for his present predicament and sentence but himself. [Slager] is the architect of his own demise.”

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